Doing business in Vietnam: a quick how-to

Ho Chi Minh City | BCBusiness

One of Asia’s remaining communist countries is putting on an increasingly friendly business face

With 90 million people, a 95 per cent literacy rate and 60 per cent of the population under the age of 35, Vietnam holds tremendous potential for any company looking to expand its markets. And while Vietnam’s trade with B.C. is small—with exports totalling almost $76 million last year, accounting for 19 per cent of Canada’s overall trade with the nation—it is growing. The challenge: economic reforms notwithstanding, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam remains a firmly communist state that bans private land ownership, with foreign investors allowed only to purchase “land use rights” that permit leases for up to 50 years.

All Roads Lead to Saigon

Hanoi is the governmental centre for Vietnam, but more than half of all business is conducted within 80 kilometres of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), according to Bill Johnston, former Canadian consul general in HCMC. With high rents in the city, he recommends companies consider setting up shop in Binh Duong—located right outside HCMC, and one of the most business-friendly of Vietnam’s 58 provinces. Binh Duong operates a “business welcome” office, which has consolidated the licences and permitting process while investing heavily in industrial development and infrastructure. B.C.-based Dan-D-Foods Ltd., a food manufacturer and distributor, operates both a factory and processing plant in Binh Duong.

Ask Local Experts

In a country like Vietnam, which Johnston describes as “an interesting amalgam of Confucian tradition with an overlay of communist government,” you need knowledge of the power structure. Contact Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service for expert assistance from commercial officers. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam can connect you with both Canadian and Vietnamese companies.

Take the Long View

Vietnam is “not for people who need to hit their targets in the next quarter,” says Johnston. Colin McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in HCMC, says that while infrastructure is a work in progress, things like cell service are getting better. “A number of companies are doing great business here,” he says. “Opportunities are increasing.”